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CCSU Professors

Jacob KovelJacob Kovel:
Professional Engineer, Lt. Colonel, Compassionate Teacher

Jacob Kovel holds many titles: Ph.D., professional engineer, lieutenant colonel, associate professor of manufacturing and construction management. But to his CCSU students, sometimes he’s a benevolent drill sergeant firmly guiding them with a golden teaching principle: Practice, Practice, Practice.

Rigorous thinking and re-thinking is part of the drill, because, he believes, acquiring or perfecting skills rarely happens the first time around. “I hate to lecture,” he laughs easily. “I like to ask questions and have students answer out loud, because they remember better when actively involved in learning. My role is to introduce new concepts and to facilitate the absorption of ideas through discussion and practical exercises.”

Thus, in his Heavy/Highway Construction Estimating class, students pore over actual Department of Transportation blueprints. Because he wants them to learn by doing, Kovel declares, “This is your mission. Here’s the building, the plans, and the specs. Tell me how much this project will cost.” Building on a storehouse of knowledge learned from pre-requisite courses, four-member teams examine component parts of the project and materials needed. They calculate a reasonable price based on available information; then using a computer-estimating program (they will have been exposed to multiple systems), they are ready for an “opening bid presentation.” Kovel smiles, “Most of them are surprised by how close they come to the actual bids DOT received for the same projects.”

When Kovel—after a 24-year career in the U.S. Army (he remains an Army Reservist)—made a transition from companies of soldiers to classrooms of students, he retained a spit-and-polish attention to detail and a dedication to hard work which have rubbed off on his teaching style. “I have high standards and expectations of what students should accomplish,” nods Kovel. “They must earn their grades. I’m a bit hard-nosed about that. But I give them plenty of opportunities to succeed.”

His approach to instruction is incremental. In his Construction Graphics course, Kovel gradually introduces freshmen to the process of how to manage a construction job—the chief goal of the undergraduate program. Confronted with a set of plans to build a 1,400-square foot community bank, students must identify key items: elevation points, lot lines, sidewalks, sanitary systems, utility lines. A young man exclaims, “I’d like to know what kind of soil we’re building on.” “Good point!” Kovel grins, and launches into a cautionary tale. “When I was stationed in Germany in 1984, we were building a $36-million gunnery range, and I was the government’s project manager. We built it according to plans, but with the first rain, one-third of the range was inundated in water. Why? Because the plans didn’t do a good job of analyzing the drainage system. Remember, plans are not always correct. Ask if any essential information is missing.”

By the end of the semester these students will progress from reading five sheets of plans for the modest-sized bank to 40 sheets detailing the particulars of constructing an educational building, some 8,100 square feet. Kovel primes his students to feel confident in understanding increasingly more complex items, such as heating and air conditioning, boilers, and power generators required in residential, commercial, and industrial construction. “Dr. Kovel’s teaching is intense,” commented student Ben Graves. “It’s only through the dedication he demands from us that we can in our future jobs reap the rewards of long hours and heavy work loads. I’ve come away with a profound sense of accomplishment by being exposed to this phenomenal learning experience.”

Military Roots

Like his father, who was a career soldier and engineer now retired as a full colonel, Kovel is a 1980 graduate of West Point, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and applied sciences and management. The military is a family affair with sister Sarah a commander in the Navy and sister Ruth, who holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Israel, having served in the Israeli army. Kovel jokes that he is “from a lot of different places,” having been born on an army base in Nuremberg, Germany, and lived in numerous points around the globe since then.

“My military career has centered on management—running organizations and doing engineering work,” Kovel says. Progressing from a second lieutenant platoon leader responsible for 30 soldiers and $5-million worth of equipment, to company commander of a 130-engineering unit with $60-million worth of equipment, Kovel left active duty in 1992. He went on to earn a master’s in engineering management from the University of Missouri-Rolla and the Ph.D. in civil engineering/ construction management from Georgia Institute of Technology.

Having taught at the U.S. Army Engineer School and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and at Georgia Tech and the University of Kansas, Kovel “learned about being a teacher,” he smiles. Now as coordinator of the construction management program at CCSU, he has taken on the challenges of working on accreditation, building relationships with state industries, and creating a graduate program. “Students in our undergraduate program run jobs; the goal of the master’s program is for our graduates to run construction companies,” he observes. “I’m hoping we’ll have an M.S. in construction management in place by fall 2005.”

When Kovel is not publishing papers on building construction for disaster mitigation and on emergency management plans for municipalities, he writes encyclopedia articles on military history—his great passion. Vice president of the North American Society of Ancient and Medieval Wargamers, Kovel owns a retail company selling military miniatures. He is co-owner of Four Horseman Enterprises, a publisher of wargame rules, “so we can simulate with miniatures,” he laughs. “That means play with our toy soldiers.” One of his business partners, Lt. Colonel Jon Cleaves, praised his friend as “one of the most patient men I know when it comes to explaining new concepts.” Cleaves said warmly, “Jake is a perfect balance of objectivity and compassion. I can think of no one in my 20-year experience as a teacher who is better able to achieve the correct mix of ensuring high standards are met while attending to a student’s particular needs.”

Chris McFadden, one of Kovel’s students, attests to such kindness. “While working on my senior project on mold prevention, I wanted to attend a seminar on the subject, but the $300-cost was outside my budget. I wrote Dr. Kovel asking him if he knew any of the presenters and if I might be allowed access. In return, I would assist in setting-up or even sweeping the floors! Dr. Kovel looked into it. And success! I was granted a pass to the seminar. All I can say is Dr. Kovel’s door is always open to his students.”

— Geri Radacsi

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